In keeping with my policy of publishing my church magazine perspective piece on my blog for those at church who don't read the magazine (and a wider audience who might be interested), here's Summer 2010's offering (slightly amended):
I’ve just got back from having coffee with a friend. I’ve not seen this particular friend for a while so we had a lot to catch up on. It would be true to say that over recent months we have not seen eye-to-eye – he votes differently to me, moves in different circles, likes different music.
But as we sat nursing our coffees – mine a cappuccino, his, a black Americano (we don’t even see eye to eye on beverages!), I realised that I’d missed seeing him to chew the fat and put the world to rights. More than that, I realised that for all the things that divide us, so much more brings us together.
I left the café with a spring in my step, feeling refreshed and invigorated.
As I listened to him to sharing his thoughts on what had happened in his life over the past few months, how he saw things in the church where he worships, what his family’s been up to, I realised that God so often speaks to us through our friends. I found myself nodding, smiling with recognition at what he was sharing, warming to his insights.
The summer’s a good time to catch up with friends. The weather is conducive to spending time sitting in the sunshine or shade, chewing the fat. The normal routines of our lives wind down a little, giving us more space to see people in a relaxed way.
Often we recommend using the summer, when the church’s programme is lighter, to focus on renewing and recharging our spiritual batteries, often through reading a good book or trying a different spiritual discipline to refresh our relationship with God.
But as we’ve been finding as we’ve read 2 Corinthians together over recent weeks, our relationship with God is intimately bound up with our relationship with one another. In fact it’s probably true to say that it is impossible to have a relationship with God if we do not also relate to his people. That after all, is the gist of what Paul is arguing in the first 7 chapters of his wonderful, intimate and emotionally-charged letter.
So, how about using the summer to sit and chill with a friend or two. You can do it a local café – Bromley has a surfeit of them these days, so you’ll never find yourself unable to get in and find a seat! You could do it at one of prayer picnics – an opportunity to catch up with one another, shoot the breeze and pray for the needs of the community and wider world. You could use the gaps in your week left by the shutting down of various church programmes to invite people round for coffee or a meal.
Jesus spent as much times eating and drinking with friends as he did in synagogue (more probably) or praying alone. Why? Undoubtedly, because he wanted us to learn something from his practice; he wanted us to see that being together in a relaxed and extended way was good for our souls. But was it also because it was good for his? Did it refresh and renew his faith to spend time chilling with friends over a meal?
So, if this was the pattern of Jesus’ life, shouldn’t it also be the pattern of ours. We cannot grow in our relationships with one another as a church through sitting in rows at services. Services help us grow in our faith in a variety of ways. But they do not help us to develop the kind of trusting relationships that are essential to our growth as Christian disciples.
I have often said that church should be no bigger than the average dining table, no bigger than the number you can comfortably share a meal with. This is because church is a place where we grow to know God through sharing with one another, where we meet Jesus in one another’s lives, where we find strength to face whatever life throws at us through the support, prayer, wisdom and laughter of our brothers and sisters.
So, get our your diaries, lift your calendars down from the fridge and start marking those dates through the summer when you’ll be getting together to share a beverage and chew the fat; where you’ll be deepening your relationships with one another and with the God who calls us into community.
I’ve to go now because a friend has just rung to say he’s on his way for a coffee and will be here in twenty minutes. Now, where shall we go….?